Arms-smuggling archbishop dies aged 94

Jerusalem, Jan 3 (IANS) A former Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem who was convicted of smuggling arms for Palestinian militants has died aged 94, a media report said on Tuesday.

Monsignor Hilarion Capucci, who served two years of a 12-year sentence in Israel before the Vatican helped secure his release, has died, the Vatican has confirmed in a statement on Monday.

Capucci had a history of activism linked to Middle East conflicts.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered his condolences and described him as a great “freedom fighter”, the BBC reported.

The Vatican, however, did not exactly confirm when Capucci died or give any more details.

Capucci was born in the Syrian city of Aleppo, in 1922.

He was ordained a priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in 1947 and was appointed Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem and Archbishop of Caesarea in 1965.

In 1974, he was travelling from Beirut to Jerusalem in a car bearing Vatican diplomatic plates when it was stopped by Israeli security forces.

Inside were four Kalashnikov rifles, two pistols, ammunition and grenades intended for members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Capucci insisted he had been forced to transport the weapons, but an Israeli court convicted him of smuggling and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

He was freed in 1977, following a personal appeal by Pope Paul VI.

Capucci remained in the headlines following his release, attempting to mediate in the Iran hostage crisis.